If I distill my expat existence down to its most basic components, it’s a lot like January. Yep, you heard me right – expat life is like one long January. I’m not talking about weather, some people’s January’s are filled with sunshine and scorching temperatures. I’m referring to the emotional peaks and troughs of the New Year.
New beginnings are unfailingly accompanied by good intentions and high hopes – healthy diets, gym memberships, self-improvement. They’re a thrilling unknown quantity; what happy encounters and lucky breaks await us we wonder excitedly. How will the world reward our new, improved selves?Similarly, since expatriating, I spend a lot of time in a state of fuzzy, unspecific elation about the potential for new experiences and adventure that surrounds me. Just the other day I scribbled down, in a state of high excitement, that I’d just seen a man in dungarees coming out of a store – mental Polaroids of North American life.
I’m determined to drink deeply from this cup of opportunity and to be the best I can be while dodging the curveballs and trying to stay on my feet. I resolve to develop good habits and not taint my new life with old, negative traits, and I relish the adventurous abandonment of not knowing – not knowing where we’ll be living six months from now, not knowing if we’ll stay in this country or end up somewhere else.
But January carries a sting in its tail. Thanks to a combination of post-Christmas blues, the arrival of unpaid credit card bills and difficulty sticking to those New Year resolutions, its final days are said to be the most depressing of the year for some.
This too can be the view from the other end of the expat spectrum when all that zest for life deserts me and I’m left with a longing for the simplicity of an existence I can navigate with my eyes closed, or simply the ability to give in to my nesting instincts and buy a lamp or picture without having to consider the incremental effect on a future shipping manifest.
Tiredness descends at the prospect of an unrelenting learning curve – relearning tax and legal systems, units of currency and nuances of communication, social customs and expectations; the constant loop of fast-forward and reverse, packing and unpacking. I yearn instead for the simple pleasure of maintaining a home that’s not rented and planning my vegetable plot for next year. The loss of these old comforts makes me question the intelligence of an existence where visualizing the future is a pointless exercise and putting down roots, an impossibility. Are the benefits outweighing the hardships? Will the kids berate us for this when they’re older?
But, as all those who make it to February with their resolutions still intact will tell you – attitude is key.
Sticking with commitments and attaining goals is no cakewalk, many give up, burn out or fall by the wayside. The same things that help us stick to those New Year resolutions can be applied to expat life; if we take it one day at a time, focus on the positives and seek support when we need it, we stand a much greater chance of success. Here’s to a happy and exhilarating 2013!
Aisha Isabel Ashraf is a freelance writer and author of the popular blog EXPATLOG – a collection of irreverent observations from her experiences as a "cultural chameleon". It's where you'll find her, strung out on caffeine, humorously dissecting the peculiarities of expat life for her own amusement and the benefit of future generations.
Read Aisha's other Expat Focus articles here.